Robert Ford

Robert Ford
Robert Ford. [Courtesy St. Joseph Museums, Inc.]

Robert Ford

Born: January 31, 1860
Died: June 8, 1892 (age 32)
Region of Missouri: Northwest
Category: Folk Legends

Robert Ford was an outlaw who shot Jesse James in the back of the head on April 3, 1882. He was born in Ray County, Missouri. His older brother, Charles, had joined the James gang around 1881 with Bob Ford joining later. Ford had already conducted secret talks with Governor Thomas T. Crittenden about capturing or killing Jesse James. He and his brother wanted to collect the $10,000 bounty that Crittenden had offered in his proclamation.

At the time of Jesse James’s death, Bob and Charley Ford were staying with the Jameses in their house in St. Joseph, Missouri. They were planning to rob the bank in Platte City. After Bob Ford shot James, he and his brother surrendered to authorities. They were charged with murder but were quickly pardoned by Governor Crittenden and given a portion of the reward. The suggestion that the governor had conspired to kill a private citizen upset many people and fed the image of James being a heroic victim.

The Ford brothers soon left Missouri. In May of 1884, Charles Ford committed suicide. Bob Ford posed for pictures, trying to earn a living off of his reputation of being “the man who killed Jesse James.” In 1892 he was killed in a tent saloon in Creede, Colorado.

Text by Carlynn Trout with research assistance by Elizabeth E. Engel

References and Resources

For more information about Robert Ford’s life and career, see the following resources:

Society Resources

The following is a selected list of books, articles, and manuscripts about Robert Ford in the research centers of The State Historical Society of Missouri. The Society’s call numbers follow the citations in brackets.

Articles from the Newspaper Collection

  • “The Ford Boys, Charles and Robert, were yesterday arraigned in St. Joseph.” Jefferson City People’s Tribune. April 19, 1882. p. 3, c. 4. [Reel # 16516]

Books and Articles

  • Balcombe, Stephen. “Bob Ford – The Man who Killed Jesse James.” True West. April 1955. pp. 10-11, 37. [REF Jesse James Vertical File]
  • Breihan, Carl W. The Man Who Shot Jesse James. South Brunswick, NJ: A. S. Barnes, 1979. [REF F508.1 F755]
  • Ries, Judith. Ed O’Kelley: The Man Who Murdered Jesse James’ Murderer. St. Louis: Patches Publications, 1994. [REF F508.2 Ok2 1995]